4: Who, Not How
Written by David Partington and Friends
You can download the PDF of this resource here.
You can’t win a war with phrases like, ‘Just say No’. If you could you wouldn’t be in the situation you’re in. You’ve tried just saying no thousands of times. Sometimes you’ve won a battle, but most of them you lost. It’s time for a fresh strategy, and one which begins with the decision to fight this time on God’s terms and using His resources.
Most important of all is to be clear about the identity you have in fighting this battle. You, like the rest of us, are called to ‘Be imitators of God, as dearly beloved children’ (Eph 5:1). Being a child of God means many wonderful things, but when it comes to fighting the battles against a life-controlling problem it means we begin from a position not only of relationship but of authority. This reality is confirmed in the story of the Prodigal Son. Having made the decision to return home to the safety and security of his father’s home as a servant, he was not only welcomed with utter delight by his father as his son, but also given a ring. That ring said, Not only are you my child but I’m giving you back your authority as one of my heirs. In the same way you have the freedom to make a clear choice between living the future on the basis of doing your duty as a servant, or living in the truth that God accepts you as His child, as a son or daughter.
If you choose to live as a son, be ready to remind yourself (often) that every skirmish you fight in the war against temptation to sin is not done primarily from a position of striving alone. As an adopted son or daughter you fight from a position of acceptance, empowering and authority.
Many people with a life-controlling problem have deep roots of rejection, often because they were never fully cherished as a unique individual. Their basic foundation of life is “I’m just not worthy, I’m not significant”. So they have developed ways of denying or compensating for their negative feelings about themselves, such as controlling people or over-pleasing them. Others have developed ways of dealing with the despair of rejection by getting into habits which cushion them from the pain of that rejection - alcohol, drugs etc.
God’s Word says you don’t have to perform to be accepted by Him. Your identity is not in who your family were, or what you have achieved in life. You have an identity in which your self-worth is directly related to your unique identity and God’s perfect love for you as His child. So you need to face yourself in the mirror, as often as you need to each day, and tell yourself, “I am a dearly beloved child of God, totally and completely accepted by Him.” You also need to remind yourself of the reason why you are accepted as a dearly beloved child of God: that’s because Jesus chose to die on a cross, in your place. As the words of the song remind you, ‘The price is paid; come, let us enter in to all that Jesus died to make our own.’
Anyone fighting a battle is going to get tired; exhausted even. The mental, physical and spiritual effects of making the right choices will be significant. Don’t pretend otherwise. But it’s a lot less tiring when you remind yourself, daily, that as a child of God you are no longer dependent on your own strength to win each phase of the battle.
Jesus gave his disciples (and He gives you) power and authority when he sent them out into the world. You are a child of God who lives with the reality of power which is ‘all-surpassing’ (2 Cor 4:7) and ‘incomparably great’ (Eph 1:19). Not only this, but you are ‘being strengthened with (this) power according to His glorious might, so that you may have great endurance and patience’ (Col 1:11). YOU ARE NOT FIGHTING IN YOUR OWN STRENGTH!
Before sending His disciples out to be Jesus to others, Jesus gave them something very important – authority. As a child of God you not only have power but you have something else from God - authority. It’s a ‘bestowed’ authority and it comes from the throne of God. With the authority comes power. How do you use that power? You don’t use it by striving or determination, you simply accept your position and let God’s power flow through you. Your side of the deal is to live righteously in your relationship with the Father, and let His Spirit do the rest.
Know your enemies
Dealing with a life-controlling problem is about clearly recognising that we’re involved in a war. To stand a chance of winning a war it’s critically important to be very clear about:
I believe there are two very significant enemies that need defeating if you are to win through to the peace and security God has for you. One is the ‘flesh’, as it’s translated in one version of Romans 13, or as ‘evil desire’ in another. The other enemy is the devil. Depending on your church background you’re probably going to be more familiar with one enemy than the other. Can I ask you to look at both issues with an open mind? The reason I think it is very important is that, through counselling and teaching in many different parts of the world, I often see the following very serious problems:
- Where there is tendency to see every temptation laid at the door of the enemy, there is a failing to recognise the power of the flesh or evil desire in our own lives.
- Where there is a reluctance to acknowledge that we have an enemy (the devil and evil forces), there is a tendency to see every temptation or difficulty as being our problem alone.
Both the flesh (evil desire) and spiritual forces war against us, and we need to recognise them both for what they are. Only this way will we be able to have a fully adequate battle plan which will result in victory.
The flesh and/or evil desire
Crucial to any attempt to fully defeat a life-controlling problem is to understand what God is saying in the book of James about how to deal with evil desire. Why? Because we read in there, in very real detail, how evil desire, unless dealt with correctly, leads to sin being birthed in our lives. Why? Because if you don’t know how to deal with temptation and evil desires then your abiding sin will be difficult to control. So, as part of our battle plan, let’s look at what James says about it all in James 1:13-15:
‘When tempted’ – it’s not about if, it’s about when. It’s going to happen! You know it happens; it’s a fact of life. You live with it hour by hour, and sometimes minute by minute; that’s why you’re reading this. You hate yourself for it – the thoughts, the images, the ideas and, with them, the temptation to sin. However, it’s vital to be very clear about the truth - the thoughts, images, ideas are NOT temptations. No, you are tempted when you allow yourself to be ‘dragged away and enticed’ by your ‘own evil desire’. This is the heart of the battle – if you can understand what is going on here your ability to deal with temptation and sin will be radically and fundamentally strengthened.
When these things happen you have two clear choices:-
- Feed your evil desires, or
- Feed the Christ life in you.
It’s what you do with your evil desires (thoughts, images, ideas) which either leads to temptation or stops them in their tracks. If you allow them to develop, eg begin to fantasise or develop them further, then you are far more likely to allow yourself to be ‘dragged away and enticed’ so that desire is ‘conceived’ and you ‘give birth to sin’. In other words you get to the point, after allowing your evil desire to grow and grow, where you make up your mind to do something - eg go on the web, have a drink etc. If you can stop that process in its track, then you can avoid giving birth to sin. That’s inherent in God’s Word. How do you stop it happening?
I never cease to be blessed by being reminded that the best way is to remember what Jesus did when he was tempted – He used a Bible verse. Remember when Jesus was in the wilderness? Satan tempted Him in three ways. Each time, Jesus didn’t argue, debate or tell Satan to get lost, but he responded with the Word of God. That’s the primary way that I found to deal with my evil desires, when I was seeking to break free of the years of giving in. I began by asking God to give me verses from the Bible which would help me stop the process of negative thinking and fantasising. He responded at various stages, but the most powerful one for me was, ‘I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I that live but Christ lives in me’ (Gal 2:20). I remember using it by saying it to myself, over and over again, when my mind was thinking about the wrong thing, and it worked. These words reminded me that the ‘old Dave’ was dead, and (even more) I was not on my own but that the life of the Son of God lived in me!
Another verse I used (I Cor 10:13) reminded me that God was not going to allow me to be tempted beyond what I could cope with. Here were two verses, the living Word of God, actively making a difference to my old, established thought processes. It really was sharper than a two edged sword in reminding me of the truth so that my evil desires lost their power.
Whatever happens, don’t try to pretend that there is no battle. Face reality – you will always want to do the things that God knows are bad for you. Remind yourself, however, that as a child of God, you can walk in the new identity He has given you through the resurrection life of Jesus. Remember some words from Selwyn Hughes: ‘By His death Christ has saved us from the penalty of sin. By His risen power and the energy of the Holy Spirit within our hearts He is saving us from the power of sin. And when He returns in glory with all the holy angels we will be saved from the presence of sin.’
The devil - remember the duck
Recently I read about a young boy and his sister who spent their summer holiday on their grandmother’s farm. One day, while the boy was throwing stones, he accidentally hit his grandmother’s pet duck and killed it. Rather than owning up, he took the duck and hid it in thick undergrowth. His sister, however, had witnessed the incident, and for a few days afterwards whenever she wanted to persuade her brother to do something, she would whisper: “Remember the duck.” Eventually the boy grew tired of being manipulated and confessed to his grandmother what he had done. To his surprise she said: “I was standing at the window and saw what you did myself. Because I love you I decided to forgive you. But I did wonder how long you would let your sister make a slave out of you.”
Despite the fact that God has done so much in our lives through His all sufficient grace, many still make the mistake of listening to ‘the accuser’ as described in Rev 12:10. Satan is a fact of life and we need to be realistic about who he is, whilst remembering WHO is Lord and WHO holds the keys to death and hell. You need to ‘Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour’ (1 Peter 5:8). Ignoring the devil is foolish, especially when you may have been involved in behaviour which he has taken advantage of. If that’s true for you it really is worthwhile asking God to show you what they really are. Then you can ask for forgiveness and receive it and move on with a fresh insight into Satan’s ways. You’re also in a better position to resist him in the future. Resistance should also be done when you’re in full armour as in Ephesians 6:13.
Remember again the primary ways in which Satan tempted Jesus, because these are the ways he will try to turn you from the identity and calling that God has given you:
- Satisfaction! Jesus was hungry, and Satan tempted Him to turn the stones into bread. This was satisfaction without God, because God’s plan was to feed His Son supernaturally through angels. But Jesus refused to settle for less – and so should you!
- Success! Taking Jesus to the top to the Temple, Satan said “Jump off, God will protect you and everyone will believe in you” (paraphrased!). Success, without the cross. Take the easy way out! And hasn’t Satan made you that same offer?: ‘You don’t have to take up your cross. You don’t have to practice self-denial.’ Satan lied then, and he’s lying to you now.
- Significance! Satan offered Jesus the kingdoms of this world and their glory if He’d just bow down to him. What an offer. Significance without God! But Jesus rebuked him with a reminder from Scripture that God alone is worthy of being glorified. (Bob Gass, Word for Today.)
If you really are in the business of choosing to deal with your established life-controlling problem then you will come under attack; so be prepared, through the Word of God, to deal with this on the following basis:
- You can still have peace – ‘He will give you rest from all your enemies around you’ (Deut 12:10).
- Obey God: ‘If… you do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies` (Ex 23:22).
- The battle over Satan is won. ‘And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross’ (Col 2:15).
- Be strong; ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you’ (Deut 31:6).
- The name of Jesus casts out demons. ‘In my (Jesus`) name they will drive out demons` (Mk 16:17).
- Remember Satan’s destiny is clearly determined and final: ‘And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur` (Rev 20:10).
Remember too that rats can only survive where there is garbage. Allow God’s Spirit to root out all places of garbage in your life – sins, habits, and wrong attitudes. Confess them, ask for God’s forgiveness, and then move in the righteousness that you have in Jesus.
Questions and Answers
What would you describe as your life-controlling problem or addiction?
I would need to say that there have been several symptoms of my addiction, including but not limited to alcohol abuse, drug abuse, acting out sexually, overeating, relationship problems, and difficulty in maintaining a serene state of mind and spirit. The addiction is manifested in those symptoms as a result of my separation from God, which is after all my biggest problem.
Stories of ways in which God helped you both during and after your problem?
In the late spring of 1982 I was having delirium tremors as a result of my drinking, and in a terrible state. I asked God for help, and he pulled me out of them in the span of a moment in time. At that time the thought came into my mind that if I were to go to AA I could get some help. The true miracle is that after this event I have not found it necessary to drink or take drugs. And many of my other behaviours generally started improving. Today I actually have a great deal of peace with myself and with God, but it is only dependent on relationship with Him. It is by His great mercy and grace that I keep the relationship ongoing.
How did your ‘problem’ begin?
I grew up in a neighborhood where there was a lot of alcohol abuse and addiction. I fitted right into the group, and it seemed normal to me. The addiction was a natural progression of the alcohol and drug abuse.
When and how did you realize your ‘problem’ was out of control?
When I was in my early 20’s I began to try to control the alcohol use, and its consequences. I knew that it was a problem, but could not accept that I could not learn to control it until much later, when I was really out of control and had lost everything - about the time of the DTs I mentioned.
When and how did you realize that God was there and wanted to help you?
It was only after I was in AA that I realized God really would help me in ways other than emergency situations. That He was a “daily” source of help I did not comprehend until after I was sober in AA for about one year. I made a decision that I needed to surrender my own will to His will, and after I did my life really started getting better, both on the inside and on the outside.
In what way(s) did you respond to God?
By following His will, as I understand Him. Also through service to others, and trying to love others as I am able. The Scriptures speak well about how we are to live. I try to live by what is in the Bible, and as God leads me through the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
What have been the three most important spiritual lessons that you have learned in relation to your ‘problem’?
That I am not alone in my struggles; God is always with me.
That love is the answer to many of my problems; it is how God defeats the devil.
That I need not fear the future, if I put God in charge of my life.
What has been the most important method that you have found to fight temptation?
Prayer and meditation.
Who was the person who helped you most and in what way?
I cannot say, as there have been many helpers along the way. In my early recovery I did have two AA sponsors who probably saved my life, as they told me what I needed to hear in such a way that I could understand them.
Is reading the Bible and praying helpful and, if so, in what way?
Daily prayer and scripture reading are a part of my life that I cannot do without. They bring peace, serenity, clarity of mind, direction of my thoughts, help in decision making, and grace to live as I choose.
In His Love, one day at a time,
© David Partington and Friends